Danette King is a trooper.
Still sore from back pain that landed her in the hospital, King sat on the steps of a modest two-story home on the 4700 block of West Race Avenue, smiling, eating ketchup-covered fries and quizzing some kids.
“The doctors found some nodules in my back. They’re not cancerous or anything. I’ll be all right,” said King, tape still on her right hand where her IV had been.
And with that, King led five kids up the stairs and into the work area for Young Creative Minds, a three-year-old program she started to keep children from the negative influences in the Austin area.
“My main focus/vision when I started YCM was to inspire and help these kids go to college. I wanted to change their mindset and create a dream for them, a goal,” said King. “I accomplished this by setting up a tutoring program to help kids improve their grades and raise their test scores, training the kids in skills they can use to help the community like landscaping, going to free or discounted events like concerts downtown, exposing the kids to activities that highlight their heritage and, most important, teaching them about their rights which they in turn share with their parents.”
King devotes much of her life to the teenagers who come to YCM seeking solace from difficult circumstances. “We started going to church, helping people in the community, cleaning vacant lots, cleaning elderly peoples’ yards,” said King. “Then one day, the Westside Health Authority noticed us on one of our cleaning trips and offered to help us out. That is how I got my first grant.”
“Danette started coming to the meetings set up by Every Block A Village and has been a subcontractor under the Austin Safety Net Works grant,” said Natasha Sewell, youth employment coordinator at the Westside Health Authority.
King came to Austin as a teenager in the late 1980s seeking refuge from abusive situations in group homes. She credits her godmother for being a constant source of support. And through overcoming her adversities, she remains optimistic in her ability to help others in her area.
“The kids, ages 5 to 10, are part of the tiny tots group. They are the newest batch of Young Creative Minds,” said King, 35, a pre-law student at Harold Washington College. “I started mentoring teenagers (ages 13 to 18) when I started this group three years ago. But I found that a lot of people did not have a place to send their younger kids for tutoring/mentoring after school, so I started taking in the young ones in the neighborhood.”
Kyeshia Louis, 19, a medical assistant student at Coyne College, started coming to YCM for counseling three years ago.
“Danette made me feel like I could open up to her. She did not judge me,” Louis said. “Danette helped me get back on my feet. She really helps discouraged children by building them up and focusing on their strengths. And she teaches us to do the same for others. Nobody leaves anybody behind here.”
Westside Health Authority collaborates with Danette on the Austin Safety Net Works Youth Employment Program, Sewell said, where kids learn responsibility as well as business skills.
“Every summer, we send Danette eight to 10 youth that are hired as part of a youth beautification project,” she said. “It is important for them to know it is a real job and that they will get paid for the job they do. Danette makes them understand that.”
“Our motto at Young Creative Minds is S.M.I.L.E. I teach the kids that before you can smile, you must have Self-respect, Motivation, Integrity, Leadership and Education,” said King. “Seeing the kids smile every day is what makes me happy. I want them to grow up knowing they can turn their dreams into reality.”